Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnists Bud Kennedy and Bob Ray Sanders moderated the event. Kennedy wrote a column a few days later about how Garcia “bucked every sacred cow.” Garcia criticized Arlington’s General Motors and the gas-guzzling vehicles produced there as “not good for America” and said he wouldn’t defend the F-35 project to save Lockheed Martin jobs. He described American Airlines management as “reprehensible.”
Garcia fired off an e-mail the next day clarifying his remarks. He was slapping Wall Street rather than Tarrant County companies, he wrote. But the message just started another firestorm by referring to Veasey as being friendly with Republicans and dubbing him “the establishment’s paid errand boy.” The crack didn’t appear to be racially motivated, but using “errand boy” to describe a black man was ill advised.
Veasey described it as another example of how Garcia’s divisive approach makes him difficult to work with, the same qualities that prompted Texas Monthly to characterize Garcia as a “one-man leper colony” in a 2001 story.
In mid-May, Tarrant County Democratic Chairman Steve Maxwell sent out an e-mail entitled “A Call For Civility In CD 33.” He characterized the “errand boy” comment as the “disgusting side of political campaigns” and urged the Democratic Party to remain all-inclusive and progressive.
“The use of terms that raise the specter of the dark side of our prejudiced past have no place in the Democratic Party of today,” he wrote. “Let’s remember who we are, where we have been, and where we are headed.”
Florez, of the United Hispanic Council, is meanwhile backing Valdez, who stepped down after more than 30 years as a justice of the peace to run for District 33. Valdez said that he did so with the encouragement of Garcia, who promised to support him. At the time, the proposed district didn’t include Dallas. But when the configuration was changed to include a large swath of that city, Garcia decided to jump into the race himself — and urged Valdez to drop out.
“He attempted very strongly to have me reconsider,” Valdez said. “I said, ‘You were part of the instigation of my running and getting people excited and getting me excited about an opportunity to serve this community.’ And then to just lay it all down, that’s another hard decision. I weighed it out and talked to the folks behind me. I said, ‘We’re here without a safety net of financial support. What do you think?’ They said, ‘Let’s go for it and win.’ ”
Garcia’s reversal sounded familiar to political observers who recalled how Garcia ran against his old friend Roberto Alonzo in the 1996 statehouse election. Garcia won the election but lost Alonzo’s friendship. Garcia subsequently lost to Alonzo in a 2002 rematch and failed in two later attempts to become Dallas mayor, losing to Laura Miller and Ron Kirk.
Valdez thinks he has a good chance of making the runoff because he has a loyal following in Tarrant County, where Democrats tend to turn out in slightly higher percentages than in Dallas County.
“The base support here in Fort Worth is enough to get us in the runoff,” Valdez said. “If I get in the runoff, I think we can win.”
Garcia created such controversy over the years at city hall and in the legislature that his hometown newspaper, The Dallas Morning News, is endorsing Veasey. A News editorial said the district’s large Hispanic population creates a strong argument that it should become a Latino seat. But the newspaper couldn’t endorse what it called “a flawed candidate” in Garcia, noting his “long and sometimes turbulent history in the public eye.”
Florez is firmly behind Valdez. But if his favorite misses the runoff, Florez says he will shift his allegiance to Garcia because of his ethnicity.
“I’m not a racist, I’m just being practical about it,” he said. “Blacks have a representative in [U.S. Rep.] Eddie Bernice Johnson in Dallas. We don’t have any in the North Texas area. Never had one. Eddie Bernice Johnson has been there a long time. We want a Hispanic so the people can see we are here, we are significant, and we are active politically. Everybody needs to have access to sit at the table and make policy.”